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Erik Burgess, Published March 22 2013

Cass County to start filling sandbags next week

FARGO – Cass County commissioners issued an emergency flood declaration during a special meeting on Friday in preparation for expected major flooding along the Red River.

The county could begin sandbag-filling operations as soon as next Wednesday. County leaders say about 500,000 sandbags will be needed to protect up to a 38-foot river level.

In its flood forecast on Thursday, the National Weather Service said there is a 50 percent chance the Red River in Fargo-Moorhead will reach 38.1 feet when it floods this spring. There is a 10 percent chance of exceeding 40.9 feet in Fargo, which would top the record-setting crest of 40.84 feet in 2009.

There is also a 5 percent chance of a 41.3-foot Fargo flood, the weather service predicted.

Sandbag-filling for the county will be done at the new county Highway Department building in West Fargo, and volunteers will be sought closer to April.

If residents want to fill their own bags at home, the county will charge $100 per 1,000 bags, and a county truck will bring sand to the designated site, said Keith Berndt, county administrator.

If residents from subdivisions volunteer to make sandbags, they will be provided with bags free of charge, Berndt said.

“Bottom line is: When we get into sandbagging, we need volunteers,” he said.

County Engineer Jason Benson estimated 25,000 to 30,000 bags a day can be churned out over a 12-hour shift using the county’s two “spider” sandbag-filling machine. It takes about 30 people to operate the machines.

The city of Fargo and Cass County could partner to expedite the sandbag-making process, Benson said. Fargo officials plan to open sandbag central – the city-run sandbag-making operation – on April 3 with a goal of filling 500,000 sandbags.

In Fargo, about 10 miles of earthen levees will be needed and an estimated 200 homes will be sandbagged to protect the city to 42.5 feet, the city’s engineering office says.

About one mile of temporary levees will be built in the Chrisan, Forest River and 76th Avenue areas southeast of Fargo. Those levees protect up to 42 feet and will be installed within 10 to 14 days before the predicted crest, Benson said.

“As we get closer to the peak, we also have plans to initiate levees in other areas that are vulnerable,” he said.

A permanent levee along 88th Avenue South protects to 40 feet, and the north side of Highland Park, north of Fargo, is also protected to 40 feet, Benson said.

He said if more protection is needed due to heavy rains, the county will turn to the quickly deployed HESCO barriers, which are dikes made of wire mesh containers filled with sand.

Although the flood seems to be “primarily on the Red” this year, Benson said the county still has to be prepared for 2010- or 2011-like flooding in the north. Temporary levees there aren’t as effective because residences tend to be more spread out, so a strong sandbagging effort is needed, he said.

Cass commissioners also used the meeting to advocate for the proposed $1.8 billion F-M Diversion project.

The flood channel would protect about 92 percent of county residents from major floods, but it has yet to be authorized and funded by Congress.

“If we had permanent flood protection, we would not be here,” said Vern Bennett, chairman of the commission. “We would be basking in the sunshine, watching the snow melt.”

The county’s flood information hotline at 297-6000 will be in operation sometime next week, Benson said. The Cass County Emergency Operations Center will open on April 2 at the public safety building in north Fargo.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518